Updated: Sep 23, 2021
The 2022 NHL Draft is full of high-end skill, and it's certainly no secret. For a few years now, Ivan Miroshnichenko has been on every draft guru's radar as a potential top three selection. By now, we know what his toolset is. He possesses a heavy shot (though there may be reservations with his shot mechanics), his skating was already a strength and looks even better this year in limited KHL exhibition play, and he even has a power forward type of game at times with his 6'1 185 frame. With that being said, there are a few less talked about aspects of his game that bode extremely well for a transition to both the professional level and North American ice surfaces.
Playing Between Checks Off The Puck
The ability to play between checks with or without the puck is a very effective way to either beat defenders (with the puck) or be an option (without the puck). When you know how to play between the checks, the defenders are unsure whose job it is to cover you, and it often leads to being lost in coverage. This is something that Miroshnichenko excels at. If you're watching the game to watch the game, it's very easy to miss this type of thing happening off the puck - but it becomes very evident when you isolate one player.
The key for Miroshnichenko's off puck play is that he's constantly moving. I mean constantly. I watched a half dozen MHL games from last season, and all of his KHL exhibition games to this point, and I'm unsure if I ever saw him covered by any one defender for more than two seconds at a time. He's constantly moving around, not just to be an option, but to be an option with momentum towards the net in order to use his quick release.
This is a good example of what he does. If you watch closely, he takes a cut to the net and is wide open, but doesn't receive the pass. Instead of standing there and having a defender cover him, he takes a big turn to keep his feet moving and attacks towards the net a second time, timing it perfectly to be open for a very high danger chance resulting in a power play goal.
Turning Board Play Into High Danger Chances
As I said in the opening paragraph, Miroshnichenko has a 'power forward' aspect to his game. At the MHL level he was an absolute tank, and while he won't be as strong relative to his KHL peers, he'll continue to grow physically and eventually be able to replicate what he could do in the junior ranks.
What impresses me about how he dominates along the boards and in the corners is how quickly he can turn a seemingly non-threatening possession into a threatening one by cutting to the net. Here's a terrific example:
Miroshnichenko fends off multiple defenders along the boards with sublime puck protection, cuts out and uses the net and his outside leg to shield the puck from the player defending him, shoulder checks (but doesn't like his options), and begins to open up and scan the front of the net before sending a perfect cross-ice pass for a well earned primary assist.
There's no shortage of skilled draft eligible junior players. What makes or breaks a prospect often comes down to the amount of and quality of translatable tendencies a prospect has in their game, and Miroshnichenko should find success as he moves to higher levels given his play style.
He may not get a ton of opportunity in the KHL this year as he's been stapled to the 3rd line for the first 5 exhibition games, and I wouldn't expect him to break point records for draft eligible Russians either. But, a consistent third line role allows him to take one of the most important developmental jumps - from juniors to pros - at an extremely young age.
What I most want to see improved in Miroshnichenko's game is his willingness to change pace and create openings for himself and his teammates while entering the offensive zone in transition. His already solid offensive zone play will certainly allow him to focus more on a weakness like that, which bodes well for his progression leading up to the 2022 NHL Draft.
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